Fire expect tough test in KC, but may have good timing


Fire expect tough test in KC, but may have good timing

If ever there was a time to face Sporting Kansas City, this might be it.

The Chicago Fire head to Children’s Mercy Park on Saturday to take on a Sporting KC team that just traded Dom Dwyer to Orlando. The trade itself is making waves around Major League Soccer for the record-breaking amount of allocation money involved ($1.6 million if incentives are hit), but for the Fire it simply means an opportunity to get a crack at the hosts before they fully regroup without the prolific scorer.

On top of that, Gerso Fernandes, who leads the team with six goals, is suspended for the game for a dangerous tackle last weekend at Real Salt Lake. Other SKC stalwarts Matt Besler and Graham Zusi are returning to the team after starting in and winning Wednesday’s Gold Cup final with the national team. Key defender Ike Opara is listed as questionable after suffering a concussion in a U.S. Open Cup game on July 11.

That’s not to say Sporting won’t still be a tough out, especially at home. KC is undefeated at home (6-0-4) and hasn’t lost in two months. Sporting is on a 10-match unbeaten run, including three wins in the U.S. Open Cup, even with Besler, Zusi and Dwyer missing time while with the national team.

“They are a good team,” Fire winger David Accam said. “We know what they can do. They are really solid at the back also. They tend to win, especially in Kansas, they haven’t lost yet. They haven’t lost a game there and they are a really good team so for us we need to put New York behind us and try to concentrate and focus on the next game.”

The Fire (11-4-5, 38 points) are trying to rebound from a 2-1 loss at New York City FC, the Fire’s first MLS loss since April. The game will air live on CSN+ with coverage starting at 6:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live.

KC (8-4-9, 33 points) has allowed a jaw-dropping 15 goals in 21 matches, which is the best total in the league. Central midfielder Ilie Sanchez has proven to be a revelation and helps protect the backline and defend the middle of the field, something the Fire has struggled with a few times this season including the loss in New York.

Even with a potentially shorthanded backline, Kansas City is still a solid defensive team with goalkeeper Tim Melia having a standout season.

“I think for me it’s a great opportunity for us, playing against one of the best teams also in the league, a tough team,” Paunovic said. “A great opportunity to recover the mentality we had and it’s not going to be easy. I think they have a very balanced team, good in attack, good in defense, one of the best in defense obviously in the league, but we have one of the best attacks. I think it’s a great test for this is how we are going to prepare our guys.

“For sure, if we can break this defense, we then can keep believing that we are one of the best attacks and teams in the league. That’s going to be the challenge.”

The Fire will be without Brandon Vincent, who suffered a quad injury in warmups before the game in New York. Michael Harrington filled in at left back. Patrick Doody, who recently returned from a loan spell with USL team Saint Lousi FC, is another option at left back.

Chicago Fire at Sporting Kansas City

Where: Children's Mercy Park, Kansas City, Kan.


When: Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live

Records: Fire (11-4-5, 38 points), Sporting KC (8-4-9, 33 points)

Fire sign veteran MLS forward Alan Gordon


Fire sign veteran MLS forward Alan Gordon

As far as notorious players in MLS with a history of scoring big goals, Alan Gordon is one of the first names on that list.

The Fire signed the 36-year-old forward on Friday, continuing to add depth to a roster that appeared paper thin throughout the preseason. Gordon, who had been on trial with the Fire for part of the preseason and even after the season opener, signed a one-year deal.

Gordon adds plenty of experience from being in the league since 2004 and having scored 55 goals with five different teams. For the past few years he has been used primarily as a substitute, but has still maintained his reputation for scoring goals late in games.

At 6-foot-3 he brings plenty of size and strength to the team and is one of the best players on headers in the league. Last season the Fire failed to score directly off a set piece, which was both due to consistently poor service from corner kicks and a lack of players adept at finishing them off. Gordon should give the Fire a late-game option in that area.

Elliot Collier had impressed the Fire enough to earn a contract as a third-round pick and an international player and even came off the bench in the opening loss to Sporting Kansas City, but it appears the team wanted more experience at forward with Gordon.

Wild season opener shows plenty of things to work on for Fire

Wild season opener shows plenty of things to work on for Fire

If you were looking for entertainment, goals, plot twists and storylines, the Fire’s season opener had all of those boxes checked.

What it didn’t have was even a point for the hosts against Sporting Kansas City on Saturday at Toyota Park.

The first half showed a Fire team which very much looked like the “incomplete” roster that general manager Nelson Rodriguez referenced just before the season. KC led 2-0 and the Fire failed to get a shot on target, showing a lack of chance creation and any semblance of a dangerous attack.

The second half showed a Fire attack which was capable of turning the heat up on the visitors, but also a defense which couldn’t defend. Sporting's 4-3 win revealed that there’s plenty of work to do for the Fire to resemble the team that finished third in the MLS regular season last year.

“Especially in the first half we saw that we weren’t ready to compete with a team that had an advantage that they had one competition game before us,” coach Veljko Paunovic said. “That was the main difference in the first half, but the adjustment in the second half was tremendous. I think just showing that we can score three goals that quickly and create even more opportunities was a positive.”

However, Paunovic wasn’t about to let his team off the hook by only speaking about positives.

“What we learned today is that we have to get better on every side of the game and in every aspect of the game,” he said. “We are not there. We didn’t have a good game. I think overall a lot of innocent and naive mistakes.”

After trailing 2-0 at halftime, the Fire revved things up in the final 25 minutes and Bastian Schweinsteiger keyed the first goal with a slick assist to newcomer Aleksandar Katai. Nemanja Nikolic showed the scoring instincts and finishing ability that won him the league scoring title a year ago by scoring two more goals to give the Fire the lead in the 82nd minute.

Then it all fell apart, with two KC goals within four minutes of Nikolic giving the Fire the lead. Dax McCarty, your thoughts?

“You’re 10 minutes away from the headline and the storyline being Chicago Fire show great character, make a fantastic comeback, win the game 3-2 and yet here we are sitting here, somehow losing that game, which is insane,” McCarty said. “It’s totally insane.”

The defensive struggles, which Paunovic pointed out mirrored last year’s early playoff exit in a 4-0 loss, will need to get resolved internally. Johan Kappelhof, Brandon Vincent and Matt Polster all started on a competent defense last year and McCarty and Schweinsteiger helped play damage control in midfield. This isn’t what the weakness of the team was supposed to be yet after one game, it’s all anyone on the team could talk about.

“We gave up four goals,” Kappelhof said. “That’s not good. Simple.”

While more additions may be coming in-season, as Rodriguez has mentioned, and injuries haven’t allowed the Fire to start 2018 fresh, this game wasn’t a good sign for what’s to come for the 2018 Fire. A lack of any offensive creation in the first half and a lack of defensive concentration, as Paunovic put it, throughout the game showed a team that has plenty of pock-marks currently.

“We don’t know how to defend, quite frankly," McCarty said. "From back to front, front to back, the defending aspect of our game was pretty poor. A lot of things to learn."

The good news is even if the Fire take some time to correct the errors from Saturday’s season opener, MLS is a forgiving league. A majority of the league, 12 of 23 teams, makes the playoffs and league-wide parity means teams can go through slumps and still end in good standing. A year ago, the Fire lost six games out of seven and still had the third best record in the league. It’s OK if the team takes time to iron out some organizational issues defensively, just don’t take too long.